Back in the days before the internet....heck! before the telephone!...newspapers reported everything about everyone! Especially small town publications that covered local news in great depth. Vital statistics like births, deaths and marriages were routinely reported. So were events like a new store opening, a job promotion, a noteworthy society party, a community picnic, a local ball game, or some darker family moments -- a barroom brawl, an arrest for public drunkeness, or even a murder or two somewhere deep in the family closet.
Happily, there are tons of online newspaper archives where you can poke around and find out what great-grandma and grandpa were up to back in the day. The US has done an especially impressive drop of moving historical archives online, but there are also sources in pretty much every corner of the globe, and in many different languages.
NewspaperArchive.com and Ancestry.com both have wonderful and deep collections of historical newspapers with easy and powerful search tools to help find family members from long ago. These are both subscription services, but they offer a variety of freebies that make them worth a visit, even if you aren't inclined to subscribe.
But there are also a ton of true free newspaper archives out there. FreeNewspaperArchives covers the US region by region, while XooxleAnswers has links to free historical newspapers listed by state. There are some wild and wonderful resources listed at these sites, like the Civil War collections from Gettysburgh, or if you prefer, South Carolina. There are even Revolutionary War era papers from New Hampshire and Virginia. But no need to venture back hundreds of years...many archives take you right up to modern times
Another XooxleAnswers page covers international newspaper archives from Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America, some in English and some in other languages. There are also pages of special collections, such as college newspaper archives, and free magazine archives.
Your ancestors are in there somewhere!
No matter where your ancestors hailed from, and where they travelled to, there are hundreds of free newspaper archives available where you can search for their stories at no charge.
Don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots..